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Degree Program Options



This policy defines that criteria for which an option in a graduate degree program can be offered.


Academic Goal

Degree options allow students to specialize within their field of study by choosing a specific body of coursework not necessarily selected by all students within that program.



This policy applies to all graduate programs.

An option is a distinct curricular specialization within (but not exclusive to) a graduate major; it is the only formal curricular specialization within a graduate major that is recognized on the transcript and diploma for students in the major. Options are defined by certain minimum requirements related to the distinctiveness and commonality of the coursework in the major.

A program may have informal curricular specializations (typically known as "emphasis areas" or "tracks"). Such curricular specializations do not require Graduate Council approval, and are not recognized on the transcript or diploma.

An option is a distinct curricular specialization within a graduate major.

Policy Statement

  1. An option within a graduate degree program must meet all of the following criteria:
    1. At least one-fourth (1/4) of the total number of course credits required for a major with options (rounding down to the nearest whole number) must be common to all students in the major; this constitutes a “core,” regardless of the option selected.
    2. Each option in a graduate major requires at least a certain minimum number of specific course credits that are distinct to the option. The minimum number of these option-specific credits is the lesser of 18 credits or one-third (1/3) of the total number of course credits required for the major (rounding down to the nearest whole number), exclusive of credits associated with the culminating experience (e.g., 600 thesis credits, capstone course credits, internship credits, etc. as appropriate to the degree program).
    3. Any graduate major that offers one or more options also must define the “base program” for the major. The base program specifies the training in the field absent any specializations (i.e., for students who elect not to take an option) and should comprise the knowledge that a “generalist” in the field should have obtained after successful completion of the degree program.
  2. Any major may adopt any approved option through the Graduate Council curricular review process.
    1. Graduate programs that wish to adopt a previously approved option should submit a joint proposal with the academic unit that originated and offers that option.
    2. Any given option must have the same curricular (course) requirements in all majors in which it is offered.
  3. All programs should use the term "option" in lieu of the terms "emphasis" or "track" when preparing program changes or proposing new program specializations.
  4. A student can be enrolled in an option only within their major.


P1 - Graduate Curricular Proposal Requirements

Further Information


Required Credits for the Common Core

If 24 total course credits are required in a 30-credit master’s degree program as described in section 1-a. above, at least 6 credits must be in common (core) for all students in the program.

Required Credits for an Option

In the case of a 30-credit master’s degree program with 24 total course credits required (e.g., excluding 6 thesis credits or 6 capstone course credits from the total of 30) and two approved options, each identified option must require a minimum of 8 course credits, none of which are required by any other option in the major (i.e., at least 8 course credits required of students in Option A must be different from any course credits required of students in Option B, etc.). Once options have met the minimum requirements indicated above for course credits unique to the respective options (i.e., not shared with any other option or with the “base program”), additional course credits may be designated for options that either are unique to the respective option or may be common across two or more options and/or the base program.

Revision History

  • Adapted from Graduate Bulletin: June 2018
  • Revised by the Committee on Programs and Courses 2014
  • Revised by the Committee on Programs and Courses 2008
  • Revised by the Committee on Programs and Courses 2003
  • Prepared by the Committee on Programs and Courses 1996
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